Glenn Branca

...an alternative way of thinking
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Glenn Branca is one of the acts Portishead chose as a Ones To Watch in Issue 29 of Clash magazine, read more and download a free compilation of the tracks here.


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For Glenn Branca, writing music with three or four pals wasn’t enough.

He quickly got over his desire to be in a rock band and turned to composing symphonies for 100-piece guitar orchestras, which blend droning industrial cacophony and microtonality with quasi-mysticism and advanced mathematics. Wow.

“We had him at ATP,” Adrian remembers. “He’s in the lineage of noise bands but also like an alternative way of thinking.”

Of how he started out, Glenn says: “I asked for a guitar for my fifteenth birthday. I got an acoustic guitar with the action about an inch off of the fingerboard at the octave. It taught me that you can get sound out of practically anything if you really want to. I also got lessons for about six months but I wanted to play rock not Bach and quit, picked up a chord book and started teaching myself, eventually just making up my own chords.”

With an impressive body of work that dates from the ’70s he is considered a highly-influential avant-garde composer. Glenn adds: “I was always interested in experimentalism. The first symphony was just one of many ideas. But when I saw the potential to incorporate my ideas about theatre with music, the symphonies became my theatre.”

Portishead’s Adrian adds: “It’s quite difficult music though I suppose. During this resurgence of noise and atonality that we have I think Glenn Branca is in there.”

Early line-ups of his ensembles featured Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth, Page Hamilton of Helmet and several members of Swans. Adrian recommends you put his name into YouTube: “It’s got him playing on the roof of somebody’s loft in New York in ’79 and the noise he is making is unbelievable, I have no idea how he’s doing it.”

Listen to: Glenn Branca’s composition for a hundred guitars, ‘Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City)’

Fact: Branca studied performing arts at Emerson College in Boston. Much of his ’70s output was for composed for experimental theater. Glenn says: “I always used a lot of music in my theatre pieces and eventually just started writing my own music. My group in Boston, The Bastard Theater, was all original music. This was my first music laboratory and eventually the music became as important as any of the other elements.”

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